The stories about white people are coming, and what they get wrong might cost us democracy

Showing Up for Racial Justice
4 min readNov 8, 2022

Election day hasn’t come yet but the flurry of articles about white, working class voters has already begun. If we want to bring enough people into progressive efforts to block the MAGA right’s attempts at establishing white Christian nationalism and authoritarianism, our public conversations in the days to come about the “white working class” must be sharper than they were in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

That year, a wave of articles popped up to explain who Trump’s supporters were, relying on sweeping generalizations and stereotypes when describing the white MAGA base, painting it as predominantly working class. This claim was eventually refuted by Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu in the Washington Post, showing that the majority of people who supported Trump actually earned above median income. Yet still this month, this New York Times article’s storyline relies on correlating low-income white districts with the likelihood of a person to choose to be present at the January 6th attack on the Capitol, even when the people featured are not low-income. While these articles may be tempting for liberal and left confirmation bias, the danger is that they effectively obscure the powerful billionaires like Peter Thiel and Robert Mercer who profit off the harm the MAGA establishment creates, focusing blame solely on working people.

Yes, white working class people supported Trump and showed up on January 6th, but if the dominant public narrative continues to reify white working people as a monolith, we may not have democratic elections to fight over after 2024.

Of the more than 300 million white adults in this country, 62 million voted for Trump. There are millions who are not faithfully aligned with either party who could go either way– and the right is fighting for their allegiance every day through a billion-dollar propaganda empire, polarizing media moments, and deeply-embedded cultural institutions. To stop their influence from growing, white progressives committed to anti-racism must contend for white people at the scale that the right does.

I’m not talking about winning back the hardline Trumpers, but rather targeting the people who are susceptible to their arc of radicalization, but haven’t been converted yet. The statistics about the number of Americans who believe in Trump’s Big Lie are indeed alarming: 21 million people, according to polls this past year, believed “force is justified to return Trump to office.” But to put that number in perspective, more than two-thirds of Americans are not yet clamoring for an ethnonationalist state. There is a massive, unrealized opportunity there.

Yet the stories and focus of our public conversation are focused on a very narrow segment of white voters and white people. We need more stories highlighting the white working class communities who reject white supremacy because they are organized away from racism and into an understanding of how their interests align more with their immigrant neighbors than a white billionaire.

For the last ten years, I’ve been leading Showing Up for Racial Justice, a national organization that works to undermine the power of the Right by bringing white people into the fight for racial justice. During that time I’ve organized with thousands of white people across the country and have learned what moves them away from white supremacy — and I’ve seen it happen.

In 2020, we talked to tens of thousands of white, rural voters in Georgia. Many of them were with us, but had never had someone come to knock on their door. Sometimes people repeated racist right wing talking points, but when engaged, we found working people who wanted to improve their lives and fight for what their communities need. And that’s when we make the connection that those things are what people of color are fighting for in their communities too, and when we fight together, we can win.

From winning the runoff elections in Georgia in 2021 to the largest labor uprising in US history at the Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia 100 years before that, some of the most powerful progressive movements in the history of this country have been the result of working people coming together across race for a common cause- and have included white people doing their part.

I am clear this is a massive task — white supremacy is deeply ingrained in our culture and in white people. But I am also clear that white people have everything to gain from rejecting white supremacy and building solidarity with communities of color. The stories that ignore and under-estimate white working-class people’s ability to change or to be moved towards multi-racial solidarity serves only those who profit from the working class being weakened by racial division. It diminishes the power we do have available- of doing the work to organize for a better future. These are the stories we need to tell.

Erin Heaney is the Executive Director of Showing Up for Racial Justice, an Atlantic Fellow for Racial Equity, community organizer, and strategist.



Showing Up for Racial Justice

SURJ is a national network that organizes white communities to join fights for racial and economic justice.